Launch of an integrated voice response system shows stellar results

A Student Client Services representative interacts with two York U students
A representative from Student Client Services assists two students from York University
A representative from Student Client Services assists two students from York University

The new integrated voice response (IVR) system launched by the York University Call Centre shows how simple innovation can go a long way. The IVR innovation was implemented in support of the Division of Students Strategic Plan and the Call Centre’s commitment to service excellence.

IVR has proven to be well used by students since it was rolled out last August. The phone system had been identified as being a “pain point” for students, both prospective and current, during a Process Re-engineering and Service Enhancement (PRASE) review. It required upgrades to stay abreast of advances in telephony and to reduce busy signals (which caused a high number of complaints).

With the introduction of IVR, students can dial in to the telephone service and quickly access automated and detailed messages, while those requiring specialized one-on-one assistance are directed to a Student Client Services (SCS) or Admissions Client Services representative. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, IVR is designed to effectively manage call volume and convey important information, even after hours when staff members are unavailable. For example, the 4,300 callers on weekends are now able to access information through the IVR instead of encountering a non-interactive after-hours message. As well, IVR guides and directs calls about routine questions to websites via short, unique, trackable URLs.

“IVR allows staff to focus on the students who need in-depth, one-on-one advice – to concentrate on detailed issues,” says Lillian Nasello, director, Student Client Services (SCS) and Admissions Client Services.

When students phone in, they can listen to voice messages and select the options relevant to them by pressing the corresponding numbers on their dial pad. They can then navigate through the system to reach increasingly detailed information. In some instances, the responses recommend specific pages on the York website. The trackable URLs enable the team to assess the webpages students are using and whether they navigate to other areas of the website. If no adequate answer to a student’s query is available, the caller is redirected to a representative. From IVR system data, client services staff know that of the more than 200,000 calls to the system since August 2013, fewer than 100,000 calls reached a representative, indicating that a significant number of callers are being provided with the information they are seeking by the IVR.

George Grigoriadis
George Grigoriadis

“We try to provide as much information up front as we can, so we can provide better service. The expectation is that the system offers enough information for most callers to make decisions without relying on staff for assistance,” says George Grigoriadis, manager, SCS.

For those students who do choose to speak to a representative, the average wait time for the more than 100,000 calls answered has reduced to less than four minutes from an average of seven minutes. The most frequent topics of questions at this time are: How many transfer credits will I receive? What’s the status of my application? What’s up with my OSAP? I have questions about my student account in general and what is the status of the documents I submitted (such as petitions)?

The IVR system is self-prompting and features international menus for students located abroad, ensuring that international students receive answers from the system regardless of their time zone. IVR is also fully accessible for callers with disabilities. In addition to telephone access, the system features email and fax capabilities, and an online chat feature may also be made available in the future.

The IVR system was created in partnership with University Information Technology, the PRASE office and the Office of the Vice-Provost Students. The groups worked with the call centre staff to develop the system and provide content. Feedback during development was gathered from students, who helped identify areas for improvement based on their needs and experiences. The York University Call Centre opened in 2003.